Peyton, K M

About the author

Pony books are often dismissed as genre fiction, but K M Peyton is proof that writing within a genre doesn’t stop you from being good. When I re-read her Fly-by-Night and The Team, I constantly have those magical moments when you read something and think ‘Yes – that is exactly how that is.’ K M Peyton knew the author Antonia Forest, and their brilliance with characterisation is in some ways similar. Her books are consistently good. When I first read Blind Beauty, the dog went unwalked, and children had to forage for themselves.

She has been writing since she was nine, with her first book, Sabre, the Horse from the Sea, was written when she was 15 under her maiden name, Kathleen Herald. Kathleen Peyton rode occasionally as a child, and had no pony of her own. What she did have was a vast stable of imaginary horses, carefully listed in notebooks and a capacity to absorb the technical horse books she read and turn them into completely believable literature. Her training though was in painting, at Kingston School of Art and then Manchester Art School, where she met her husband, Mike, an ex prisoner-of-war. They married when she was 21, and as they both loved sailing, that is what her first books as K M Peyton were about. (I, who am anti-boat and dreadfully sea-sick, find them absolutely enthralling.)

She moved from writing about boats to horses, and the resulting Flambards series, set around the First World War, brought her a Carnegie Medal for the second book, The Edge of the Cloud. Flambards became a television series starring Christine McKenna, and is probablyK M Peyton’s best known series.

When the Peytons acquired their first pony, Cracker, for their daughter Hilary, he was unbroken. The traumas of breaking Cracker in and being a Pony Club parent found their way into Fly-by-Night and many of her subsequent books. The Maybridge series, of which Fly-by-Night is the first, is her longest series, and sees its characters into adulthood. Not all of the titles are pony books (Ruth, by the time she meets Patrick Pennington, the pianist hero of Pennington’s Seventeenth Summer, has put ponies firmly behind her) but Peter and Jonathan continue their equine careers, more or less willingly.

After the success of Flambards, Kathleen acquired an agent, Michael Motley. ‘… I didn’t need an agent, but he … asked me out to lunch, not to talk about writing, but about racing. Of course I fell for this, which resulted in my acquiring both an agent and a race-horse.’ Wise Words, the race-horse, never won, but from her involvement with racing sprang some of her best books.

Finding the books
Most of K M Peyton’s books are easy to find, though her books written under her maiden name, Kathleen Herald, are harder, Crab the Roan being very difficult indeed, possibly the hardest. First editions of the Flambards series tend to be pricey (though they have come down in recent years). The Last Ditch (Free Rein) and Marion’s Angels can be tricky, but are not impossible.

Links and sources
K M Peyton has her own website.
Fidra Books: Fly-by-Night and The Team have an introduction by K M Peyton
Dictionary of Literary Biography
Meg Rosoff on K M Peyton at Books for Keeps
Thank you to Dawn Harrison, Sue Howes, Susan Bourgeau, Jacquie Aucott, Catherine Lloydall, Julie Main, Jane and Kate for all their help with photos and bibliographical information. There are no photographs of covers by Lionel Edwards for copyright reasons.


The Edge of the Cloud
Flambards in Summer
Flambards Divided

Who Sir? Me Sir?
Who Sir? Me Sir?
Downhill All the Way
The Boy Who Wasn’t There

The Swallow (High Horse) Series
The Swallow Summer
Swallow the Star

The Team
Pennington’s Seventeenth Summer
The Beethoven Medal
Prove Yourself a Hero
A Midsummer Night’s Death
The Last Ditch (Free Rein)
Marion’s Angel

Small Gains
Greater Gains

Roman Pony
Minna’s Quest
No Turning Back
Far From Home


Sabre, the Horse from the Sea (as Kathleen Herald)

Adam & Charles Black, 1948, 145pp, illus Lionel Edwards
USA edition: paperback printing
Acorn books (a division of Macmillan)
1963, cover art by Russell Hoban (thanks to Susan Bourgeau for the info and cover shot)

Liza found the big grey stallion Sabre on the beach, and after she falls for him, lies to the police when they come to take him back. She races the horse, but he is recognised by his owner and taken back. Liza does still though have the hope of Cinder’s foal, after the mare was put to Sabre.

For copyright reasons I don’t include pictures by Lionel Edwards

The Mandrake, A Pony (as Kathleen Herald)

Adam & Charles Black, 1949, 120pp, illus Lionel Edwards

Lesley has bought The Mandrake. He is a beautiful pony: bay with a clever head and wide aristocratic nostrils. Lesley thinks he will be the most wonderful pony in the South, but she was wrong. Mr Congress said “The Mandrake’s got a brain like a bird. He’s mad.” Lesley though says The Mandrake was born to be clever, and in the end, she’s proved right, and Lesley learns it doesn’t matter what other people think about your pony, and that success is not the most important thing.

For copyright reasons I don’t include pictures by Lionel Edwards

Crab the Roan (as Kathleen Herald)

Adam & Charles Black, 1953, 158pp, illus Peter Biegel

Anna lives on “The Duke’s” estate with her father, the estate manager. China is the Duke’s driving pony, and Anna loves him and is devastated when he is sold, to be replaced by the ugly roan, Crab. Crab, however, turns out to be a horse in a million.

Thanks to Amanda Dolby for the picture


Oxford University Press, 1967, 193pp, illus Victor Ambrus
Puffin pb, 1976, 1978, 1995
Oxford University Press, 1981, 1987, 2004, 2007
US printing: Philomel, 1982, cover Derek James

The 12-year-old Christina, an orphan, is sent off to Flambards.There live her uncle, and her two cousins, Mark and Will. Mark is deeply unsympathetic, but Christina does make friends with Will, and also discovers a passion for horses. Then Christina is stunned by Mark’s proposal, but her feelings for Will win out, despite a dramatic last minute chase by Mark on his grey Woodpigeon.


Oxford University Press, 1968, 151 pp, illus by the author
OUP, 1971,
OUP, pb, 1979
Sparrow, pb, 1981
In Three in one Pony Stories, 1999, Red Fox
Fidra Books, pb, 2007
USA: World Publishing 1969

Ruth is desperate to have a pony. She manages to buy the unbroken New Forest, Fly-by-Night, but has a huge struggle to keep him on her very limited income, and if possible even more of a struggle to learn to ride him.

The Edge of the Cloud

Oxford University Press, 1969, 165 pp, illus Victor Ambrus
Puffin pb, 1977, 1978
OUP, 1987, 1998

Christina knows that Will loves her, but that he has a passion for flying and aeroplanes. In the end, they marry, but World War I is just about to start.

Flambards in Summer

Oxford University Press, 1969, 188pp, illus Victor Ambrus
Puffin pb, 1977, 1978,
Heinemann, New Windmill,1982
OUP 1985, 1999

Christina, now a widow, returns to Flambards, and sets about trying to restore the battered estate and make it pay as a farm. Dick, once a groomat Flambards, returns, and that is nearly enough to make Christina happy again.

Pennington’s Seventeenth Summer

Oxford University Press, 1970, 188 pp, illus by the author  (US:  Pennington’s Last Term)
OUP 1973, New Oxford Library, 1979
Magnet, pb, 1982
Scholastic, pb, 1994

Patrick Pennington is one of the bad boys at school, though he is redeemed by his extraordinary ability at the piano. He is entered in a local music competition, but the chances of him competing in it are slim, after his brushes with the police, local vandals and the staff who war with him at school.

The Beethoven Medal

Oxford University Press, 1971, 152pp, illus the author (US:  If Ever I Marry)
OUP, 1974, 1979
Magnet pb, 1982

Ruth, heroine of Fly, is besotted by the baker’s boy – Patrick Pennington, working during the holidays from his music course. Her mother violently disapproves, but Ruth carries on seeing Patrick. He has yet more brushes with the police, and after he hits a policeman, it is certain that he will go to prison, ruining his chances to play with a major orchestra.

A Pattern of Roses

Oxford University Press, 1972, 123pp
OUP, 1975
Sparrow pb, 1982
Oxford, 1984, OUP, 2000
Pb Scholastic USA:  as So Once Was I
Translated into Welsh (Patrwm Rhosod)

A very atmospheric story with minimal pony content. Tim has moved to the country with his parents, but is ill and unhappy. Then a workman finds a tin containing drawings in Tim’s room, and Tim and the vicar’s daughter, Rebecca, set out to find out why the artist who did the drawings, and who has the same initials as Tim, died so young decades ago.

Pennington’s Heir

Oxford University Press, 1973, 185 pp, illus the author
OUP, 1975, pb

Patrick comes out of prison, and has a reunion with Ruth, but Ruth gets pregnant. Patrick leaves his teacher, and he and Ruth try and survive on their own, battling with their hand to mouth existence, and the machinations of Clarissa, Patrick’s former girlfriend.

The Team

Oxford University Press, 1975, 177pp, illus the author
Sparrow pb, 1982
Red Fox, pb, 1990
Fidra Books, pb, 2008
US: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1976

Ruth has outgrown Fly, and at a local auction she buys Peter’s outgrown and utterly beloved Toad. Peter wants him back, but Ruth decides to keep him and a wedge is driven between them. Ruth has a huge struggle to learn to ride Toad, and then finds Fly, whom she sold, is not being kept well.

The Right-Hand Man

Oxford University Press, 1977, illus Victor Ambrus
Magnet pb, 1983

Ned Rowlands is the fastest stagecoach driver on the Harwich Road. Lord Ironminster is determined to win a wager aginst his cousins, and recruits Ned to help. Lord Ironminster is a sick man, and has to marry and produce an heir to avoid his estate passing to his cousins. Ned finds defeating the cousins in their desire to get the estate is even more of a struggle than driving the four-in-hand.

Prove Yourself a Hero

Oxford University Press, 1977, illus the author
Penguin, pb, 1979, 1982
OUP, 1999

Jonathan Meredith is kidnapped, and really it’s very difficult to give a summary of
this book without revealing the whole plot, but it’s an excellent look at how a
devastating event affects families, and in particular how it affects the victim.

A Midsummer Night’s Death

Oxford University Press, 1978, 120 pp.
Puffin pb, 1981
OUP, 1983, 1999

Jonathan doesn’t like the English master at his school, but he can’t believe that Robin drowned himself. Soon Jonathan begins to have suspicions that Robin did not kill himself, and that someone for whom he has huge respect was responsible.

Marion’s Angels

Oxford University Press, 1979, illus Robert Mickelwright
Methuen as Falling Angels, 1983

The church Marion loves is famous, and decorated with six pairs of beautifully carved angels. Thechurch is threatened with demolition, but this threat brings to the village two visitors who understand her feelings for the church.

Flambards Divided

Oxford University Press, 1981Puffin pb, 1982
OUP pb, 1999

Last in the Flambards series, this was written specially for a film. Christina finds herself divided between two men:  Dick, whom she has married, but whom the village disapproves of, and Mark, badly injured in the war, and furiously resentful of Dick.

Dear Fred

Bodley Head, 1981
Pavanne, 1982

This is based on the tragic true story of the famous jockey, Fred Archer and is overlain with the story of Laura, who idolises Fred, and has a complete crush on him, to the embarrassment of her parents. The only people who seem to understand Laura’s feelings are her Uncle Harry, and his protegé Tiger, a boy with a fiery nature who kisses Laura in secret behind the stable door.

Who, Sir? Me, Sir?

Oxford University Press, 1983
Puffin pb, 1985
OUP, 1985, 2000 (retold by Diane Mowat)

Sam Sylvester has entered his class in a competition against the posh Greycoats School. He and his team haveto take part in a tetrathlon, and learn to ride, swim and run cross country.

The Last Ditch

Oxford University Press, 1984, 170 pp.
Published in the USA as Free Rein

Jonathan is on holiday in Greece with Iris, who seduces him. The consequences of this are catastrophic, and Jonathan runs away, joining up with Peter who wants to train one of his brother’s horses for the National. They take the horse and squat in a large house, existing on Jonathan’s income from tutoring. Jonathan falls for a girl who helps them, and the horse does run in the National.

The Sound of Distant Cheering

Bodley Head, London, 1986
Chivers Large Print, 1987

Rosy Weeks works at Brood House. She loves her boss, Jeremy Cutbush, and the horse she looks after, Roly Fox. When the stallion Peppermill arrives at the stables, he is going to be cut. Rosy decides to mate him, secretly, to a mare at the stables.

Plain Jack

Hamilton, London, 1988, 29pp.
Scholastic, pb, 1997

Aimed at young readers.


Doubleday, London, 1989, 224 pp.
Delacorte Books for Young Readers, New York, 1990
Corgi, London, pb, 1991
Random House, London, pb, 2013 (identical to Corgi)

Jenny lives in poverty and chaos, but then she and her grandfather buy a racehorse, and keep him on the slimmest of shoestrings, in contrast to what goes on next door at the wealthy Strawsons.

No Roses Round The Door

Methuen, London,1990, 208 pp.
Ulverscroft Large Print, 2004

Three people face profound choices. Tom and Jo have everything, but Tom wants children, and Jo doesn’t. Tom is drawn to Camilla, who does want children. Briefly, Tom manages to juggle these conflicting desires, until tragedy occurs.

Poor Badger

Doubleday, London, 1990, 80pp
Corgi Yearling, London, 1991, pb

Ros longs for a pony, and then comes across the black pony Badger. At first his owners neglect him, but unfortunately there is worse to come, and Ros decides she absolutely has to rescue Badger.

Late to Smile

Methuen, London, 1992, 232pp
Ulverscroft Large Print, 1994

A story for adults, this is about Miranda, dominated by her mother and her husband. Unlike the rest of her family, she has no desire to ride. When her husband dies, her life is thrown into turmoil, but she does, in the end, work out what she wants from life.

Apple Won’t Jump

Hamish Hamilton, London, 1992, 32 pp, illus the author?

A young reader, in which a pony refuses to jump until she has a decent reason to!

The Wild Boy and Queen Moon

Doubleday, London, 1993, 222pp
Corgi, pb, 1995

Sandy works at her family’s livery yard, but she sees a beautiful grey horse galloping through the night, with a boy riding it bareback. Sandy gets to know the mare’s rider, Jonas, but then when burglaries start to happen, she starts to suspect he might be involved.  

The Swallow Tale

Doubleday, London, 1995, 189 pp, jacket illustration Margaret Barrett.
Corgi, pb, 1996

Rowan is convinced that Swallow, who nearly causes an accident with her father’s car as he runs about half wild, is meant to be her pony. However, he is bought by a local riding school. Meanwhile, Rowan’s riding is improved by the Hawes family, and in the end they manage to buy Swallow.

Swallow Summer

Doubleday, London, 1996, 191pp
Corgi, 1997, pb

As Swallow becomes fitter, it becomes clear that Rowan is still having terrible trouble managing him.The High Hawes stables are also still on a shaky footing, and may have to sell all the ponies, including Swallow.

Windy Webley

Corgi Children’s Books, 1997, illus Nick Price

A pony story for younger children. Webley is a black army horse, and he is ridden by Fred. Unfortunately, Webley is called Windy for a reason, and that’s not the only problem he has: he is prone to getting bored, and when he’s bored he makes faces and worse.

The Pony That Went to Sea

Heinemann, 1997, 40pp, illus Anna C Leplar

Tom and Emily, who live on a houseboat, adopt the old, forgotten pony Paddy. One night there is a storm, and they take Paddy on board the boat, but then the boat breaks free in the storm…

Swallow the Star

Corgi, pb, 1998, 221pp

A film company is making a film about the jockey Fred Archer, and they choose Hugh Hawes to play the young Fred. Hugh wants to ride Swallow in the film, as he’s always wanted to see what the pony could do with a better rider. Swallow’s owner, Rowan still doesn’t know if she’ll ever be able to manage Swallow, and she has other worries too: will the High Hawes equestrian centre survive, and will her mother be able to afford to keep Swallow?

The Paradise Pony

Young Corgi, 1999, 93 pp, illus Robin Lawrie

Lauren and Tashy love their ponies, even though they aren’t particularly good at anything. However, when the ghostly Cobweb appears from Paradise and goes on a ride with the girls, their ponies are able to jump beautifully.

The Scruffy Pony

Young Corgi, 1999, 95pp

When Carrie’s father loses his money and they have to sell her pony Red Robin, Carrie is heartbroken and convinced no other pony could ever be as good. At first, when her parents do manage to get her a new pony, Carrie refuses to have anything to do with him:  he is scruffy and neglected, but he needs Carrie and in the end she realises this.

Blind Beauty

Scholastic, 1999, 360pp, Cover illustration the author
Scholastic, pb 1999
US: Dutton Children’s Books 1999, photo Pete Kelley
Scholastic, pb, 2008

Tessa loathes her bullying stepfather Maurice, and hates seeing her mother dominated by him. When Tessa’s behaviour gets even worse, Maurice packs her off to work at a local racing stable. At first Tessa hates it, but in the end the horses and people get to her, and she forms a special relationship with the horse Buffoon.

Pony In The Dark

Young Corgi, 2001, 107 pp

Tom’s favourite Shetland pony, the black Storm, is sold to work in the mines, and Tom is devastated. Tom knows just how hard and bleak life in the mine will be for the pony, and when there is a terrible accident at the mine, Tom wonders if he will ever see Storm again.


Macmillan Children’s Books, London, 85 pp, 2001
Macmillan Children’s Books, London, pb, 2002

Nicky and her mother live in Bloodybow Castle. Bloodybow is  haunted by a terrible past: hundreds of years ago a feud was started when border raiders stole a stallion. The feud led to the death of a young boy, and now Nicky has to try and lay the past to rest.

Small Gains

David Fickling Books, Oxford, 2003
Definitions, 2004, pb

The Garland family have struggled to survive since the death of their mother, particularly with the glowering and oppressive presence of the rich Grover family to contend with. Clara, however, has an eye for a horse, and an ability to train a trotter, and she hopes this will provide the family with a way through.

Greater Gains

David Fickling Books, Oxford, 2005, 325 pp.
Definitions, 2006, pb.

Clara is recently widowed, but is pregnant with her first child at the age of fifteen. The Garland family’s life is no easier: in fact the activities of one member of it make life considerably worse, and Clara is faced with some bitter choices.

Minna’s Quest

Usborne, London, 2007, 185 pp.

Minna lives at the Roman fort of Othona on the Essex coast. She saves a foal the soldiery cast out, convinced it won’t survive, and that foal plays a pivotal part in saving the fort when pirates threaten.

No Turning Back

Usborne, London, 2008, 197pp

Still in love with the Roman commander Theo, Minna has run away to be near him. She complicates matters further when she tries to steal back a horse stolen by a band of thieves.

Far From Home

Usborne, London, 2009, 183pp.

This is the third part of Minna’s story. Theo and Minna’s brother have set off to the North to fight, and Minna joins the baggage train. She becomes a Roman spy, but then her horse Silva is stolen, and Minna sets off on a mission to save him.

Paradise House

Scholastic, London, 2011, 200 pp.

Alice has a bleak life with her father and servants, none of whom seem to like her particularly. One day Alice goes to a local race meeting, riding her father’s carriage horse. The horse bolts, and as a result Alice meets a family with whom it turns out she has a lot more in common than just horses. Alice lives with the family; finds a brother, father and mother, and also the horse Snatchcorn, whom she can manage but very few others can.

All That Glitters

Forelock Books, Sussex, 2014, 168 pp, ilus Maggie Raynor

Millie, though she lives on a farm, doesn’t have a pony. One day she finds a neglected, ugly pony, whom she keeps at the local livery stable. The stables’ owner lets her niece take over the stables, which doesn’t go down that well with Milly and her friends. The girls come to an uneasy peace with Polly Poulter, the niece, but then the rains come…


As Kathleen Herald

Red Rosette
Pony Magazine, October 1953, illus Harold Beards

When the Sirens Sounded

Facts, Figures and Fun, 2012, 128 pp.

A (mostly non fiction) account of K M Peyton’s wartime childhood, growing up in Surbiton as bombs fell, and the school population rose and fell as girls came and went from London with the fluctuations of war. In it, K M Peyton takes on life with the same passion she was to show in her books.


Pennington, a Trilogy

Oxford University Press, 1985,
cover illustration by Andrew Aloof


Pennington’s Seventeenth Summer
The Beethoven Medal
Pennington’s Heir


Penguin, 1980
photo cover art from the mini series


The Edge of the Cloud
Flambards in Summer

The Puffin Book of Horse & Pony Stories

Puffin, 1993, 186 pp.
Oxford University Press, 2000, illus Michael Langham Rowe

Chosen by K M Peyton